Upon returning to the east coast, I knew an inevitable problem was awaiting my welcome. While the rest of the world was freezing and worried about travel to and from work, frozen crops, impacts on the economy, and so forth, I sat contemplating about what I was going to do without my precious sunshine. I’m not that obsessed with the sun, but there is a very particular reason why I happened to care now more than I ever. Recently, there’s been a lot in the news / media regarding people’s deficiency of a certain vitamin. Can you guess which one? Obviously, it’s linked to the sun. Okay, fine I will tell you. It’s called Vitamin D. It’s pretty much the only vitamin I know of that you can get for free. How? By simply exposing your skin to the sun!!! Before you get too excited, getting the necessary sun time isn’t as easy as it sounds, hence my concern.
Yes, you heard correctly, the basis of my worries was my intake of Vitamin D. Some of you don’t even know whether you get the proper amount of Vitamin C let alone Vitamin D, and that’s okay. But now it is time to pay attention because Vitamin D can be just as detrimental to your immune system and health as Vitamin C.
Sunlight is the cheapest form of this crucial vitamin, and it’s the best, most natural source of it too (as opposed to taking it through a pill for example). That said, sunlight in moderation people…this is not a good excuse to layout for hours. You only need about 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight exposure about 3 times a week (unless you are darker skinned, in which case you need 2-3x more…sorry). By direct exposure, I mean there can be nothing coming in between your skin and the sun – no windows, no sunscreen, no clothes, no people, etc. So pick a body spot (e.g., legs) and let the exposure begin!
Why my sudden attention to Vitamin D? I didn’t care much until moving to the east coast, and became particularly intrigued after a conversation with one of my close friends here. I was feeling a bit un-Ida-like (i.e., not quite myself) for some reason, and she asked me about my Vitamin D intake. I looked at her and said, “Whatchyu talkin bout girl?” I’m usually the nutrition freak of the two of us, so I was a bit surprised when she asked me this. Long story short, apparently there is a link to sunlight, vitamin D, and mood. So when your Vitamin D levels are down, you may be too, or you may be up and down. For those of you thinking…wait, is that really true?!? Well, the verdict’s still out on this one, but a ton of research is being done, and studies are showing some pretty convincing evidence. Here’s a recent article I read regarding VD and mood linkage.
Why should you care about Vitamin D? For those of you who prefer weak bones, a poor immune system, frequent colds, higher risk of cancer, and getting older faster, then perhaps you shouldn’t care, and you may want to stop reading here. For everyone else, below are just a few of the wonderful health benefits, and nice video to really scare you into taking Vitamin D 😉
Vitamin D Health Benefits:
- Builds strong bones and prevents osteoporosis
- Boosts immune function and fights off colds
- Reduces inflammation
- Promotes healthy neuro-muscular function
- Protects against colon, prostate, breast, and endometrial cancers
- Slows the aging process
Where does one acquire Vitamin D? There are 3 primary sources: sun, food, and pill. For more information on sources, I am going to point you to my friend’s blog, but before doing so, I’d like you to read on.
How much do you need? For those of you who like to see exact numbers click here. Notice calcium intake requirements are listed too. I will talk more about why this is important at the end. Basically, you need about 1,000 IU a day, but as always it depends on other factors too. It’s confusing, I know, but I would just aim for 1,000 IU or more per day to be safe. That said, I’m not a doctor, so consult with yours to determine the right amount for you.
Did you say IOU or IU? I said IU. How are you to understand and calculate IU’s? It’s a bit annoying, agreed, but put in a little effort, and in no time it will be easy peasy. Here are some helpful options to make the process as painless as possible. I usually rely on the % listed on the ingredients label and try to hit 100% for the day. I found the chart below, and it provides a great guide and example for those of you looking for specific food examples. With supplements, you can usually follow the recommended intake on the back of the bottle (e.g., 1 capsule with food 1-2 times daily), or match your required IU intake with the IU amount per capsule on the bottle. Finally, when it comes to Vitamin D from the sun, I already told you (so scroll up and read again).
What’s my go-to-source? Well, sun is obviously number 1 on my list, but that’s clearly not always an option. At the moment my sources are:
- Fortified Tofu – gotta read the label to be sure it is fortified with Vitamin D though, because not all tofu are created equal
- Mushrooms bathed in the sun – again, you have to check to see if the mushrooms have been exposed to the sun, otherwise they may have no or very little Vitamin D
- Vitamin D3 supplements – the pill is pretty much my primary right now, as it’s easy to carry around and swallow when I’m on the go. I am not a fan of supplements, but in this case, it’s better than no Vitamin D at all.
Alright, at this point you are likely thoroughly overwhelmed, but I must leave you with two last things…
First, you need be sure to balance Vitamin D with Calcium – both of these suckers are critical to strong bones. They are one another’s yin and yang. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium in order to build and maintain our bones.
Second, the salmon you are eating may not be a good source of Vitamin D. There is some debate, and a lot of research out there regarding this question. Ultimately, the answer relies on how the fish is caught, fed, and raised. Wild caught salmon is the best (that goes for any fish really), but other kinds may have very little Vitamin D. That all said, I would totally eat salmon, regardless of its Vitamin D levels, because it has a whole host of other mind-boggling health benefits, but I’ll save that discussion for another time.
Should you desire more depth and detail, please visit my friend’s blog. He’s got the science behind a lot of this, as well as more information on Vitamin D sources and how Vitamin D can improve athletic performance.
For the first time I think I may understand why they decided to call SunnyD, SunnyD.